I have a confession to make. It’s a big one and something I’ve never admitted in public. I hate flying. There, I said it. Yours truly, Major Levison Wood of the feared Parachute Regiment, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society etc etc, is a bit of a pansy when it comes to turbulence.
It isn’t just that though. I really don’t like heights either. The Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower; even those virtual reality games when you stand on the end of a plank make me feel physically sick and my knees wobble.
So, it’s rather ironic then that I undertook a rather extravagant road trip in order to avoid a short haul flight because I was going to learn to fly.
I travel for a living, and therefore I am required to fly quite a lot. Every time I board a plane, I run through my mind the various grisly endings I might come to. My overexcited imagination contemplates everything that might go wrong. I envisage an errant seagull getting sucked into the jets mid-takeoff; I worry about Russian interference in the onboard entertainment, and whether or not the pilot has had one too many vodka martinis the night before. Of course, my rational mind knows that air travel is safe, particularly when you compare it to traipsing through war zones, as I often find myself doing. And yet…
Anyway, I digress. I don’t like flying. I have to occasionally remind folks of that when I get bashed for my carbon footprint – even Sir David Attenborough contributes more than his fair share to the common greenhouse effect. What’s more, for the record, if I am given the choice, I’d much rather walk. Or take the train. Or drive for that matter.
"Yours truly, Major Levison Wood of the feared Parachute Regiment, is a bit of a pansy when it comes to turbulence."
The last month has been a busy one. As the country geared up for the four horsemen of the Brexit apocalypse to descend upon the nation, I decided that it was high time to escape the despondent national mood and head to the continent before my passport instantaneously combusted on the 31 Jan. So, rather than take a £50 quid EasyJet to the Alps, I thought it might be nice to do my bit for the trees and take Le Chunnel.
Naturally a gentleman should always travel in style, so who was I to say no when a very kind chap at Rolls Royce asked whether I’d be so generous as to take the brand new Cullinan 4×4 for a spin. In true ‘Leave Means Leave’ style, I therefore donned a flat cap, gathered the boys and off we went on a jolly jaunt to Chamonix. The trip itself passed without event and I have to say I could very well get used to the shag pile interior carpets, top down parking cameras, and inbuilt ejector umbrellas, which thankfully were not required. It was all very James Bond (we even succeeded in a minor car chase through Paris thanks to uptight Monsieur Taxi), but that was only the beginning of my adventure.
Staying at the Folie Deuce hotel, for which I had high hopes only to be let down by a lingering smell of ingrained fondue in the carpets, I found myself about to face my biggest fear.
Chamonix isn’t exactly apres-central. Being a town, rather than a resort, means that to get to the piste also involves a certain amount of commitment, which is probably why I’m sure half of the visitors spend more time window shopping than skiing. All that is just as well given that the slopes, this time round, were mere eye-candy. Nope, I wasn’t here for the powder, but rather to learn to paramotor.
For the uninitiated, paramotoring is exactly the same as paragliding, except you have a massive lawnmower on your back. I’d been invited by a friend of a friend to give it a try ages ago, and this year I ran out of excuses. “You’re a PARA,” he said. “You’ll pick it up in no time.”
Despite his reassurances, I can’t say I wasn’t a tad nervous at the prospect of hurling myself around the skies with a large blade next to my head and a tank of petrol beneath the crown jewels. Still, there was no time to lose. We had a weather window to stick to, and so, with a grand total of two hours ‘ground handling’ where I was shown how to layout a wing, make sure the risers didn’t get muddled, and schooled in the art of running off a mountain, I found myself soon after, actually running off a mountain.
To begin with, after the sensation of pure fear melted away into downright disbelief as the glorious valley unfolded beneath me, and I realised I wasn’t about to fall out of the sky, I actually started to enjoy it. My instructor handed me the brake handles and suddenly I was in control. We glided about, and I felt incredibly free and I have to say, when we landed the thrill of being alive was a sensation well worth the initial terror. Over the course of the next four days I progressed onto solo flying and by my third jump was pretty much doing loop the loops with a motor attached. Okay, not quite, but not far off.
It was a delightful week and a great start to the year. By the time I returned to a post Brexit Britain I was imbued with a fresh passion, a new perspective and an optimism that jumping off cliffs actually wasn’t such a bad idea after all. What’s more I’d gotten over my fear of flying.
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